Ohio Supreme Court Holds Landlord Not Liable for Hostile Housing Environment

The Ohio Supreme Court has held that a landlord is not liable for a failure to prevent racial harassment of one tenant by another. 


In a recent decision, Ohio Civil Rights Commission v.  Akron Metropolitan Housing  Authority, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission brought a lawsuit against Akron Metropolitan Housing after a series of racially charged altercations between one family and another. 


The trial granted summary judgment for the landlord.  However, the Ohio Court of Appeals held that a landlord could be held liable for a hostile housing environment if the landlord, through its agents or supervisory personnel, knew or should have known about harassment and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.


The Ohio Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeals.  This case has no bearing on a situation in which the landlord is creating the harassment, as the Ohio Supreme Court pointed out is its opinion.  The appeals court had extended the law of employer liability for a hostile work environment to housing.  The Supreme Court noted that a landlord does not have the same type of control over a tenant that an employer has over an employee, stating reasoning that a “reasonable opportunity or effective means to control a third person does not arise from the mere power to evict”. 


The Court concluded that “[a]lthough the conduct alleged by the appellees is reprehensible, we decline to extend liability to behavior so far beyond the reach of the statutory language, especially in light of the absence of an agency relationship between a landlord and his tenants and the landlord’s comparative lack of control over his tenants”.